Maria Thompson, the first female president of Baltimore’s Coppin State University, announced Thursday that she will step down from the historically black university at the end of June.
Thompson wrote in an email to students, faculty and staff that she would be returning to her native city of Nashville following her recent marriage and a lengthy recovery from cancer.
“My doctors have been delighted with my progress over these many months and have recently given me a clean bill of health,” she wrote. “During the Christmas holidays, my joy was multiplied with the decision to marry my long-time companion — Dr. Joseph Perry. We have determined that the time is right to begin a new chapter as we make a new life together in my native city of Nashville.”
Thompson, 57, joined Coppin in 2015, as the university struggled with financial problems and poor graduation rates. Her appointment came two years after an oversight committee investigating conditions at Coppin State for the Maryland Board of Regents found evidence of serious mismanagement.
Thompson said the school has gotten on the right track financially since her arrival. In December, she told WYPR that “all of our audits are clean and that “things are on the right course.”
But the West Baltimore school still struggles with enrollment like other small universities. The school had 2,738 students enrolled as of fall 2018, down 12 percent from about 3,100 in the fall of 2015.
“Without question, we have much yet to accomplish and I want to assure all that I will be working diligently for the remainder of my tenure to advance our strategic priorities to recruit an increasing number of new students for the next academic year,” Thompson wrote in an email to students, faculty and staff Thursday.
Bob Caret, the University System of Maryland chancellor, praised Thompson’s tenure at Coppin.
“President Thompson’s career has been one of strong commitment to the mission of higher education and historically black colleges and universities, with a focus on the students and communities they serve,” Caret wrote in an email to The Baltimore Sun. “On behalf of the University System of Maryland, I applaud Dr. Thompson’s leadership of Coppin State and her guidance in advancing Coppin as an institution that is critical to the well-being of the city of Baltimore and our state.”
In the coming weeks, the chancellor will appoint a search committee to identify a successor, university system spokesman Mike Lurie said. The search process typically takes a minimum of five to six months, he said.
Thompson told The Sun that she is “proud to join the ranks of cancer survivors” and that she looks forward to “enjoying life” in Nashville. In the meantime, she said she will focus on her day-to-day work to give Coppins’ multigenerational student body the best experience in and out of the classroom through the end of her tenure.
“That is a great challenge we face every day,” she said. “We make sure the learning environment is suitable for all students.”
Thompson came to Coppin after serving four years at the State University of New York at Oneonta, where she was provost and vice president for academic affairs. Before that, she worked 13 years at Tennessee State University, a historically black institution in Nashville, helping to direct research and sponsored programs.
Thompson called Coppin “vital to the health of Baltimore City.”
“Our partnerships with Mayor Pugh, Baltimore City Community College, and other universities and community colleges in the area are at the forefront making sure Baltimore City is strengthened and has the best opportunities for its citizens,” Thompson told The Sun.